Mythology with Erin

Adventures in storytelling

Tag: Wikipedia

Wikipedia Trails: Ouroboros to Saint Catherine

Several times this past year, in things I’ve read or watched, I’ve noticed a strange symbol of a snake eating its tail. Sometimes it’s depicted as two snakes, one dark and one light, and sometimes it looks like a knot, but it’s been popping up often. I mean, check out The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell. It’s a wildly popular young adult novel, and its sequel released this week. The snake symbol is featured on the covers of both books.

I really wanted to find out more about this symbol, so I dove into Wikipedia and followed the trail!


The snake symbol is an ouroboros, and it’s a common image that comes from Ancient Egypt. It’s been connected to alchemy, Gnosticism, Norse mythology, dualism and other ancient religions/cults. The ouroboros is a symbol packed with many different meanings and variations, but the general idea is this: the snake eating its own tail symbolizes the infinite unity of the universe. The snake destroys itself, but it also gives birth to itself, an idea which has connected it to the Tao concept of yin and yang. When the snake is presented as half-dark, half-light, or as two snakes of different colors, the ouroboros represents dualities like life and death, birth and destruction.


Jormungandr is a representation of the ouroboros in Norse mythology. He is the World Serpent, the offspring of Loki and Angrboda. He’s so big that he can circle the entire world and grasp his tail in his mouth, and he lives at the bottom of the ocean. The mythology says that come the apocalypse, Ragnarok, he will let go of his tail and surface to poison the sea and sky of Earth. He’ll battle with Thor, and Thor will kill him, but Thor will only be able to walk nine steps before he dies of Jormungandr’s venom.


A kenning is a literary device that is usually two descriptive words hyphenated together to stand for a normal word. They’re used very often in Old English and Norse poetry, but we still use them today for effect or idiom. An example of a kenning from Beowulf is “whale-road” which just means the sea. A common way of describing a dragon is “fire-serpent.” A modern kenning that we use without thinking is bookworm.

Catherine of Alexandria

Catherine is a Christian saint who is said to have been martyred at the hand of Roman emperor Maxentius, who persecuted Christians. She debated with the emperor’s best scholars and converted them to Christianity, so Maxentius had her tortured and imprisoned. Angels treated her wounds and she emerged from the dungeons more beautiful than ever. Many people visited her, and they were all converted to Christianity. Maxentius tried to have her executed on the breaking wheel, but when Catherine touched the wheel, it shattered. Eventually Maxentius had Catherine beheaded.

Image 1: Thor battling the Midgard Serpent by Emil Doepler. Source – Wikipedia.

Image 2: The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell. Source – Simon & Schuster

Image 3: The Devil’s Thief by Lisa Maxwell. Source – Simon & Schuster

Image 4: St. Catherine of Alexandria by Artemisia Gentileschi. Source – Wikipedia.

Wikipedia Trails: From Baghdad to Triumph

I started this Wikipedia Trail from something I looked up for my reading this week. The Voyages of Sindbad repeatedly mentioned Baghdad, and I had no idea where Baghdad was! I searched it on Wikipedia, and then followed the trail…


Baghdad is capital of Iraq. It’s the largest city in Iraq, and it has a long history. It’s located on the Tigris River, and it was founded in 762 AD. The city was destroyed by the Mongols in the 1200s, and it’s been plagued by troubles for several centuries. There have been many failed empires as well as literal plagues, and in recent years, the city has been invaded and targeted by insurgents in the area. In its earliest years, though, it was a major center for Islamic culture and was renowned as a Center of Learning.

Victory Arch

The Victory Arch is known by many names: The Hands of Victory, Crossed Swords, Swords of Qadisiyah. It’s a sculpture in Baghdad that features two hands holding swords that are crossed high in the air. There are two of them, and they mark the entrance to a monument ground for the Iran-Iraq War. The sculptures were partially dismantled in 2007 as an effort to get rid of all symbols of the Saddam Hussein era, but the effort was stopped, and the swords have been restored as an act of reconciliation with the past.

Triumphal Arch

The triumphal arch is an architectural monument popularized by the Romans, who built them to commemorate military victories, great leaders, new conquests, and feats of construction. They’re highly decorated and usually span the width of a road that passes under them. These arches have been built in many cities around the world to commemorate their own victories, most notably the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Roman Triumph

A “triumph” was not just a word for victory in Rome; it was an huge event to celebrate such a victory. Triumphs were awarded to the best generals in the army after great victories, and they were massive. The general would wear the finest purple robes and a laurel wreath while being paraded around Rome in a chariot with his armies, captives, and spoils of war. He would stop at the Temple of Jupiter to make a sacrifice and dedicate his victory to the gods. The city would hold celebratory games and feasting. During the parade, the triumphant general was said to be as close to a god as a man can get (until the emperors started claiming they were gods). Because of this, a companion would often stand behind the general during the festivities, whispering in his ear to remind him that he is only a man and he will die.

Image 1: Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Source – Wikipedia.

Image 2: Victory Arch in Baghdad. Source – Wikipedia

Image 3: The Triumphal Arch of Orange, the oldest surviving triple-arched Roman arch. Source – Wikipedia

Wikipedia Trails: From Arachne to Korybantes

For this week’s Wikipedia Trails, I started with Arachne after noticing a mention of her on the class Twitter. I couldn’t remember the story, so I decided to refresh myself and see what else I could find.


Arachne is a character from Greek mythology. She was an incredibly talented weaver, and she challenged Athena, goddess of crafts, to a weaving contest. Variants of the story differ in who won the challenge, but regardless of the outcome, Athena punished Arachne by turning her into a spider.


Marsyas is another character from Greek mythology who was prideful enough to contest the gods. He was a satyr and an accomplished flute player. He challenged Apollo to a music contest, as Apollo was the god of music. Everyone danced to Marsyas’s music, and everyone cried when Apollo played. The Muses decided that the contest was a draw. Apollo wouldn’t settle for this, so he played his lyre upside down. Marsyas couldn’t play his flute upside down, so Apollo won. Marsyas was skinned alive for daring to challenge the gods.


The aulos is an ancient Greek wind instrument. It has two reeds, like an oboe, and two forks. It is frequently depicted in Greek art, and archaeologists have even found remains of the instrument. The story says that Athena invented the aulos but thought she looked silly because her cheeks puffed out while she blew into it. So she threw it away and cursed anyone who picked it up. Marsyas the satyr picked it up and mastered it, and as we learned above, the gods were not very happy about that.


In Ancient Greece, the Korybantes were the dancers of the cult of the goddess Cybele. They danced and drummed while wearing armor and helmets. Dancing in armor is called Pyrrhic dancing, and it was fairly common among several different Greek cults, including the Kouretes in Crete. All these dancers were men, and the Pyrrhic dance was seen as an initiation ritual following a military victory.

Image 1: Arachne and Athena by Rene-Antoine Houasse. Source – Wikipedia.

Image 2: Youth playing the aulos. Source – Wikipedia.

Image 3: Kouretes in armor dancing around an infant. Source – Wikipedia.

Wikipedia Trails: From Fafnir to Runestone

I decided to dive down this Wikipedia rabbit hole after coming across a mythological character that I have heard several times in the past week but know nothing about. Let’s see where it takes us!

Starting point:

We’ve been reading Beowulf in one of my other classes, and I read an article that mentioned that J.R.R. Tolkien said there were only two true dragons in mythology: the dragon of Beowulf and Fafnir. I had never heard of Fafnir before. Later, I was watching the Crash Course Dragons video, and heard Fafnir mentioned again. As a lover of dragons, I knew I had to look it up.


Fafnir is a character from Norse mythology. He is one of the three sons of the dwarf Hreidmar. When some Aesir (Norse gods) kill Otr, one of the sons, the dwarf family demands they pay his weight in gold. However, they make the mistake of sending Loki to gather it, and Loki brings back cursed gold. Because of the curse, Fafnir becomes uncontrollably greedy. He kills his father, steals the gold, and runs away to hoard the gold. Because of this, he turns into a greedy, poison-breathing dragon. 


This is a legendary ring that Loki gives to the dwarves with the cursed gold. It has also been cursed and said to bring death and misery to whoever owns it. It is what causes Fafnir to turn into a dragon. Obviously enough, Andvaranaut inspired the One Ring in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, just like Beowulf’s dragon inspired Smaug in The Hobbit.


Sigurd is a hero from Germanic mythology. He kills Fafnir, takes Andvaranaut, the ring, and gives it to his wife. With the ring in their possession, misfortune finds them, and an evil queen makes Sigurd forget his wife so he will marry her daughter. Angry, Sigurd’s original wife kills him for cheating. This is only one version of the story because there are several different manuscripts, documents, and sources for Sigurd’s story from Germanic areas, Sweden, Scandinavia, and even Iceland. Sigurd is also known as Siegfried.


These are large rocks found all over Scandinavia that were erected by the Vikings and other Germanic groups. They were often used to memorialize dead men. They have inscriptions that tell who erected the stone, for whom, and how they died. Some of them also have images or patterns on them that depict either crosses or scenes from Norse mythology. Sigurd is a common hero featured on the stones.

Image 1: Sigurd examining his newly forged sword by Johannes Gehrts. Source – Wikipedia

Image 2: A runestone in Lingsburg. Source – Wikipedia

Image 3: Fafner guarding his hoard. An illustration from Wagner’s Siegfried opera. Source – Wikipedia

Image 4: A runestone depicting Odin being eaten by Fenrir, the wolf of the apocalypse. Source – Wikipedia.

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